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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Warner Books Edition
Copyright © 1998 by James Patterson
All rights reserved.
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.
First eBook Edition: June 2003
SOMEBODY PLEASE help me! Somebody please! Can anybody hear me?"
Max's screams pierced the clear mountain air. Her throat and lungs were beginning to hurt, to burn.
The eleven-year-old girl was running as fast as she could from the hateful, despicable School. She was strong, but she was beginning to tire. As she ran, her long blond hair flared behind her like a beautiful silk scarf. She was pretty, even though there were dark, plum-colored circles under her eyes.
She knew the men were coming to kill her. She could hear them hurrying through the woods behind her.
She glanced over her right shoulder, painfully twisting her neck. She flashed a mental picture of her little brother, Matthew. Where was he? The two of them had separated just outside the School, both running and screaming.
She was afraid Matthew was already dead. Uncle Thomas probably got him. Thomas had betrayed them and that hurt so much she couldn't stand to think about it.
Tears rolled down her cheeks. The hunters were closing in. She could feel their heavy footsteps thumping hard and fast against the crust of the earth.
A throbbing, orange and red ball of sun was sinking below the horizon. Soon it would be pitch-black and cold out here in the Front Range of the Rockies. All she wore was a simple tube of white cotton, sleeveless, loosely drawn together at the neckline and waist. Her feet were wrapped in thin-soled ballet slippers.
Move. She urged her aching, tired body on. She could go faster than this. She knew she could.
The twisting path narrowed, then wound around a great, mossy-green shoulder of rock. She clawed and struggled forward through more thick tangles of branches and brush.
The girl suddenly stopped. She could go no further.
A huge, high fence loomed above the bushes. It was easily ten feet. Rows of razor-sharp concertina wire were tangled and coiled across the top.
A metal sign warned: EXTREME DANGER! ELECTRIFIED FENCE. EXTREME DANGER!
Max bent over and cupped her hands over her bare knees. She was blowing out air, wheezing hard, trying to keep from weeping.
The hunters were almost there. She could hear, smell, sense their awful presence.
With a sudden flourish, she unfurled her wings. They were white and silver-tipped and appeared to have been unhinged. The wings sailed to a point above her head, seemingly of their own accord. Their span was nine feet. The sun glinted off the full array of her plumage.
Max started to run again, flapping her wings hard and fast. Her slippered feet lifted off the hardscrabble.
She flew over the high barbed wire like a bird.
FIVE ARMED MEN ran quietly and easily through the ageless boulders and towering aspens and ponderosa pines. They didn't see her yet, but they knew it wouldn't be long before they caught up with the girl.
They were jogging rapidly, but every so often the man in front picked up the pace a significant notch or two. All of them were competent trackers, good at this, but he was the best, a natural leader. He was more focused, more controlled, the best hunter.
The men appeared calm on the outside, but inside it was a different story. This was a critical time. The girl had to be captured, and brought back. She shouldn't have gotten out here in the first place. Discretion was critical; it always had been, but never more than right now.
The girl was only eleven, but she had "gifts," and that could present a formidable problem outdoors. Her senses were acute; she was incredibly strong for her size, her age, her gender; and of course, there was the possibility that she might try to fly.
Suddenly, they could see her up ahead: she was clearly visible against the deep blue background of the sky.
"Tinkerbell. Northwest, fifty degrees," the group leader called out.
She was called Tinkerbell, but he knew she hated the name. The only name she answered to was Max, which wasn't short for Maxine, or Maximillian, but for Maximum. Maybe because she always gave her all. She always went for it. Just as she was doing right now.
There she was, in all her glory! She was running at full speed, and she was very close to the perimeter fence. She had no way of knowing that. She'd never been this far from home before.
Every eye was on her. None of them could look away, not for an instant. Her long hair streamed behind her, and she seemed to flow up the steep, rocky hillside. She was in great shape; she could really move for such a young girl. She was a force to reckon with out here in the open.
The man running in front suddenly pulled up. Harding Thomas stopped short. He threw up his arm to halt the others. They didn't understand at first, because they thought they had her now.
Then, almost as if he'd known she would—she took off. She flew. She was going over the concertina wire of the ten-foot-high perimeter fence.
The men watched in complete silence and awe. Their eyes widened. Blood rushed to their brains and made a pounding sound in their ears.
She opened to a full wingspan and the movement seemed effortless. She was a beautiful, natural flyer. She flapped her white and silver wings up and down, up and down. The air actually seemed to carry her along, like a leaf on the wind.
"I knew she'd try to go over." Thomas turned to the others and spit out the words. "Too bad."
He lifted his rifle to his shoulder. The girl was about to disappear over the nearest edge of the canyon wall. Another second or two and she'd be gone from sight.
He pulled the trigger.
KIT HARRISON was headed to Denver from Boston. He was good-looking enough to draw looks on the airplane: trim, six foot two, sandy-blond hair. He was a graduate of NYU Law School. And yet he felt like such a loser.
He was perspiring badly in the cramped and claustrophobic middle-aisle airplane seat of an American Airlines 747. He was so obviously pathetic that the pleasant and accommodating flight attendant stopped and asked if he was feeling all right. Was he ill?
Kit told her that he was just fine, but it was another lie, the mother of all lies. His condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder and sometimes featured nasty anxiety attacks that left him feeling he could die right there. He'd been suffering from the disorder for close to four years.
So yeah, I am ill, Madame Flight Attendant. Only it's a little worse than that.
See, I'm not supposed to be going to Colorado. I'm supposed to be on vacation in Nantucket. Actually, I'm supposed to be taking some time off, getting my head screwed on straight, getting used to maybe being fired from my job of twelve years.
Getting used to not being an FBI agent anymore, not being on the fast track at the Bureau, not being much of anything.
The name computer-printed on his plane ticket read Kit Harrison, but it wasn't his real name. His name was Thomas Anthony Brennan. He had been Senior FBI Agent Brennan, a shooting star at one time. He was thirty-eight, and lately, he felt he was feeling his age for the first time in his life.
From this moment on, he would forget the old name. Forget his old job, too.
I'm Kit Harrison. I'm going to Colorado to hunt and fish in the Rockies. I'll keep to that simple story. That simple lie.
Kit, Tom, whoever the hell he was, hadn't been up in an airplane in nearly four years. Not since August 9, 1994. He didn't want to think about that now.
So Kit pretended he was asleep as the sweat continued to trickle down his face and neck, as the fear inside him built way past the danger level. He couldn't get his mind to rest, even for just a few minutes. He had to be on this plane.
He had to travel to Colorado.
It was all connected to August 9, wasn't it? Sure it was. That was when the stress disorder had begun. This was for Kim and for Tommy and for Michael—little Mike the Tyke.
And oh yeah, it also happened to be hugely beneficial for just about everybody else on the planet. Very strange—but that last outrageous bit was absolutely true, scarily true. In his opinion, nothing in history was more important than what he'd come here to investigate.
Unless he was crazy.
Which was a distinct possibility.
THE DAY started to go a little crazy when Keith Duffy and his young daughter brought that poor crushed doe to the Inn-Patient, as I call my small animal hospital in Bear Bluff, Colorado, about fifty minutes northwest of Boulder along the "Peak-to-Peak" highway.
Sheryl Crow was singing ever so raucously on the tape deck. I flipped saucy Sheryl off when I saw Duffy walk inside carrying that poor doe, standing like a dolt in front of Abstraction, White Rose II, my current favorite Georgia O'Keeffe poster.
I could see the badly injured doe was pregnant. She was wild-eyed and thrashing when Duffy hefted her onto the table. Half-thrashing, in truth, because I suspected her spine was broken at midpoint, where she'd been clipped by the Chevy 4x4 that Duffy drives.
The little girl was sobbing and her father looked miserable. I thought he was going to break down, too.
"Money's no object," he said.
And money was no object because I knew nothing was going to save the doe. The fawn, however, was a maybe. If the mother was close to term. If it hadn't been mashed too badly by the four-thousand-pound truck. And a few more ifs besides.
"I can't save the doe," I said to the girl's father. "I'm sorry."
Duffy nodded. He was a local builder, and also one of the local hunters. A real knucklehead, in my humble opinion. Thoughtless probably described him best, and maybe that was his best quality. I could only imagine how he must be feeling now, this man who usually bragged on his kill, with his little girl begging to save the animal's life. Among his other bad habits, Duffy occasionally stopped by and brazenly hit on me. A sticker on his 4x4 bumper read: Support Wildlife. Throw a Party.
"The fawn?" he asked.
"Maybe," I said. "Help me get her gassed down and we'll see."
I gently slid the mask over the doe's face. I kicked at the pedal and the halothane hissed through the tube. The doe's brown eyes showed terror, but also unimaginable sadness. She knew.
The little girl grabbed the doe around the belly and started crying her heart out. I liked the girl a lot. Her eyes showed spunk and character. Duffy had done at least one good thing in his life.
"Damn, damn," the father said. "I never saw her until she was on the hood. Do your best, Frannie," he said to me.
I gently peeled the little girl off the deer. I held on to her shoulders and made her face me. "What's your name, sweetie?"
"Angie," she sobbed out.
"Angie, now listen to me, sweetheart. The doe doesn't feel anything now, understand? It's painless for her. I promise you."
Angie pushed her face into my body and held me with all of her little-girl strength. I rubbed her back and told her that I would have to euthanatize the doe, but if its baby could be saved, there would be a lot of work to do.
"Please, please, please," said Angie.
"You're going to need a goat. For milk," I said to Duffy. "Maybe two or three of them."
"Not a problem," he said. He would have acquired nursing elephants if I'd told him to. He just wanted his little girl to smile again.
I then asked both of them to please get out of the exam room and let me work. What I was about to do was a bloody, difficult, and ugly operation.
IT WAS SEVEN in the evening when the Duffys came to the Inn-Patient, and maybe twelve minutes had already gone by. The poor doe was out cold and I felt so bad for her. Frannie the Sap—that's what my sister, Carole, calls me. It was my husband David's favorite nickname for me, too.
A little less than a year and a half ago, David was shot and killed in the physician's parking lot at Boulder Community Hospital. I still hadn't recovered from that, hadn't grieved enough. It would have helped if the police had caught David's murderer, but they hadn't.
I cut along the abdominal line with my scalpel. I exteriorized the uterus, flipping it out intact onto the doe's open belly. I cut again, this time through the uterine wall. I pulled out the fawn, praying I wasn't going to have to put it down.
The fawn was about four months, nearly to term, and as best as I could tell, uninjured. I gently cleaned the babe's air passages with my fingers and fitted a tiny mask over its muzzle.
Then I cranked on the oxygen. The fawn's chest shuddered. It started to breathe.
Then it bawled. God, what a glorious sound. New life. Jeez, Louise, the whole magical thing still makes my heart go pitter-patter. Frannie the Sap.
Blood had spattered on my face during the surgery, and I wiped it off with my sleeve. The fawn was crying into the oxygen mask and I let the little orphan snuggle up against its mother for a few moments, just in case deer have souls, just in case… let mother say good-bye to her child.
Then I clamped off the cord, filled a syringe, and euthanatized the doe. It was fast. She never knew the moment she passed from life into death.
There was one can of goat's milk in the fridge. I filled a bottle and popped it into the microwave for a few seconds to warm.
I removed the oxygen mask and slipped the nipple into the baby deer's mouth, and it began to suck. The fawn was really beautiful, with the gentlest brown eyes. God, I love what I do sometimes.
Father and daughter were huddled close together on my antique daybed when I came out into the waiting room.
I handed the fawn to Angie.
"Congratulations," I said, "it's a girl."
I walked the family of three out to their creased and dented 4x4. I gave them the can of goat's milk, my phone number, and waved good-bye. I briefly considered the irony that the fawn was riding home in the same vehicle that had killed its mother.
Then I was thinking of a steaming hot bath, a cool glass of Chardonnay, maybe a baked potato with Wisconsin Cheddar—life's little rewards. I was feeling kind of proud of myself. I hadn't felt that way for a long time, not since David's death changed just about everything in my life.
I was about to go inside when I realized that there was a car in the lot, a shiny black Jeep Cherokee.
The door opened and a man slowly got out. Headlights hit him from behind and for a moment he was haloed in light.
He was tall, slender, but muscular, with lots of blond hair. His eyes quickly took in the place. The big porch deck festooned with hummingbird feeders and a couple of wind socks. My trusty-dusty mountain bike. Wildflowers everywhere—mountain lupine, daisies, Indian paintbrush.
Now this part is more than a little weird. I'd never seen him before. But my limbic brain, a dumb little organ so primitive it bypasses logical thought, locked on to his image and stayed there. I stared at him, and I felt a rush of something akin to recognition. And my heart, which has been stone-dead for the past few years, sputtered, caught, and jumped into life for at least a couple of seconds. That kind of ticked me off, actually.
I figured that whoever he was, the mystery man was lost.
"We're closed for the night," I said.
He stared at me, unapologetic about the intrusion into my front yard.
Then he called me by name.
"Does she owe you money?" I said. It was an old Comedy Store line, but I liked it. Besides, I needed a passable joke after the euthanasia of the doe.
He smiled, and his light blue eyes brightened, and I found that I couldn't look away from them. "Are you Frances O'Neill?"
"Yeah. It's Frannie, though."
I took in a face that was cool yet had a touch of warmth. The directness of his eyes sort of nailed me to the spot. He had a fine nose, a strong chin. His features held together too damned well. A dash of Tom Cruise, maybe even a little Harrison Ford. Something like that, or so it seemed that night in the bloom of the Jeep's headlights.
He brushed off his slouchy hat, and a lot of sandy-blond hair shifted and gleamed. Then he was standing in front of me, all six two of him, like a glossy photo from an L. L. Bean catalog, or maybe Eddie Bauer's. Very serious-looking, though.
"I've come from Hollander and Cowell."
"You're a real estate broker?" I croaked.
"Did I catch you at a bad time?" he asked. "Sorry." At least he was polite.
"What makes you think that?" I asked. I was all too aware that my jeans were soaked in blood. My sweatshirt looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.
"I'd hate to see the guy who lost the fight," he said, surveying my appearance. "Or do you dabble in witchcraft?"
"Some people call it veterinary medicine," I said. "So, what's this about? Why did Hollander and Cowell send you at this time of night?"
He hooked a thumb toward Bear Bluff's center, where the real estate office is.
"I'm your new tenant. I signed the papers this afternoon. They said you left everything in their capable hands."
"You're kidding. You rented my cabin?"
I'd almost forgotten I'd put the cabin on the block. It's a quarter of a mile back in the woods behind the clinic, and it used to be a hunting shack until David and I moved in. After David died, I started sleeping in a small room at the clinic. A whole lot of things changed for me back then, none of them good.
"So? Can I see the place?" L. L. Bean said.
"Just follow the footpath behind the clinic," I told him. "It's a four- or five-minute walk. It's worth it. Door's not locked."
"I don't get the guided tour?" he asked.
"Much as I'd love to, I've still got a couple of chickens to kill and some spells to cast before I sleep. I'll get you a flashlight—"
"I've got one in the car," he said.
I lingered in the doorway as he crunched back to his Jeep. He had a nice way of walking. Confident, not too cocky.
"Hey," I called out to him. "What's your name?"
He looked back—hesitated for a half second.
"Kit," he finally said. "I'm Kit Harrison."
I WILL NEVER FORGET what happened next. It was such a shock for me, a hard kick in the stomach, or maybe even the side of my head.
Kit Harrison reached into the Jeep—and he did the unspeakable—he pulled a hunting rifle off a silver-metallic gun rack. That son of a bitch.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. My flesh crept.
I yelled at him, loudly, which is so unlike me. "Wait! Hey! You! Wait right there, mister! Hold up!"
He turned to face me. The look on his face was serene, cool as it had been. "What?" he said. Was he challenging me? Did he dare?
"Listen." I let the big screen door bang shut behind me and marched fast and hard across the gravel beachhead. No way was I going to have somebody with a hunting rifle on my land. No way! Not in his or my lifetime.
"I've changed my mind. This is no good. It's not going to work. You can't stay here. No hunters. No how, no way!"
His gaze returned to the Jeep's interior. He snapped the glove compartment shut. Locked it. He didn't seem to be listening to me at all.
"Sorry," he said without looking at me. "We made a deal."
"The deal's off! Didn't you just hear me?"
"Nope. A deal's a deal," he said.
He grabbed a torch lamp from inside the car door, a reddish duffel bag, then he took up the hideous rifle in his other hand. I was apoplectic, kept sputtering, "Look here." But he ignored me, didn't seem to hear a word.
He kicked the Jeep door shut, flicked on his Durabeam flashlight, and casually headed down the path into the woods. The woods sucked up the light and the sound of his retreating footsteps.
My blood was knocking hard and fast against my eardrums.
A goddamn hunter was staying in my house.
IT WAS NEARLY DARK and the hunters still hadn't found the girl's body. They were bitterly cold and hungry and frustrated as hell, and they were also scared. There would be unfortunate consequences if they failed.
They had to find the girl.
And the boy as well—Matthew.
The five of them walked through the thickly wooded area where they believed the girl had fallen. She should be right there! They had to locate the specimen called Tinkerbell and destroy her, if she wasn't already dead from her fall and the gunshot.
Put Tinkerbell to sleep, Harding Thomas was thinking as he led the search team. It was a euphemism he used to make moments like this easier: Put somebody to sleep. The way they do with animals. Not death, not murder—just peaceful sleep.
He thought he knew the precise area where the girl had dropped like a shot from the sky, but there wasn't any dead body flattened on the ground, or hung up in the towering fir trees.
They certainly couldn't leave her out here, couldn't risk hikers or campers finding the body. What a titanic disaster that would be.
"Tinkerbell, can you hear me? Are you hurt, honey? We just want to take you home. That's all." Thomas called in the gentlest voice he could manage. It wasn't so hard: he had always liked Max and Matthew well enough.
Tinkerbell was a code name, and it was what he'd always called her. Peter Pan was young Matthew's code. He was Uncle Tommy.
"Tinkerbell, where are you? Come out, come out. We're not going to hurt you, sweetheart. I'm not even angry at you. This is Uncle Tommy. You can trust me. If you can't trust me, who can you trust?
"Can you hear me? C'mon, kiddo. I know you're there. Trust Uncle Thomas. There's no one else who can help you."
SHE WAS ALIVE. Amazing, amazing, amazing!
But Max was hurt, shot, and she didn't know how bad the wound was. Probably not too bad, since she hadn't passed out yet, and there didn't seem to be much blood.
She'd been hanging on to the top of a tree for hours, hidden in thick branches. At least she hoped she was hidden. She tried to be still. Silent, too. Invisible, three.
Max was shivering, and the whole thing was crashing out of control.
She really, really wished Matthew was with her. They would give each other strength and hope and words of wisdom. It had always been that way with the two of them. They were inseparable at the School. Mrs. Beattie, the only truly nice one there, called them "inseparable at birth," and the "Bobbsey Twins"—whoever the heck they were. When Mrs. Beattie died, everything had gone bad. Real bad. This bad.
The woods were crawling with men. Bad ones—the worst creatures imaginable. There were at least a half dozen of them. Hunters—killers. They were frantically searching for her, and also for Matthew. They had rifles and flashlights.
Uncle Thomas was one of them, and he was the worst. He had pretended to be their friend… but he was the one who would put you to sleep. He had been a teacher, a scientist, and now he was just a killer.
"We're not going to hurt you, sweetheart." She mimicked his voice, his phony, insincere manner.
The one good part was that she didn't need to see
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2003
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Little, Brown and Company